Milk Thistle is one of the oldest known remedies for liver disease. The ancient Greeks used it for serpent bites, probably because it was considered to be of value in ridding the body of toxins. What about the bite from the dragon we call Hepatitis C? Well, I have had some experience with Milk Thistle and have done a lot of research. I also know that when you are diagnosed with End Stage Liver Disease, your first impulse is to try anything in an attempt to help your liver function.
But is it safe? What brands, and in what doses? I know that you want to do everything you can to help heal your liver. All I can do is share my experience with the Silybum marianum plant, it’s history, modern use, effectiveness, and safety.
History – For centuries the Milk Thistle plant has been used as a way to get relief from bile and poisons. Its’ effectiveness was considered to be miraculous through the middle ages in Europe. A poultice made by boiling down the plant was used on skin eruptions to draw out the poison. It was believed to give relief to an obstructed liver and for kidney ailments also. This sounds amazing, but remember, they also put leeches on people who were sick to draw out the demons that were causing the illness.
Even today, modern homeopathic practitioners use the seeds topically and orally to offer patients relief for everything from jaundice to gallstones.
I’m all for natural remedies. I use tea tree oil on mosquito bites, believe that time spent in quiet prayer and meditation can slow my blood pressure, and carry green tea bags in my purse for all sorts of emergencies. Well, that and safety pins. Don’t ask. But if you run into trouble, find me.
In my teen years, I learned that I had only been born with one kidney. That began my lifelong love of reading about homeopathic medicines. I even grew my own medicinal herbs in order to get pure medicines derived from freshly harvested plants. I planted many with my culinary herbs and subscribed to Prevention Magazine in hopes of surviving for many years.
Now fast forward to my early 50’s and undiagnosed Stage 4 Cirrhosis. I was living on Acai Berry and a multitude of herbs trying to stave off the mental and physical mess that my body was experiencing. A large portion of my food bill was supplementation from health food stores. I was picky about brands, but I was also grasping at straws.
The Diagnosis of Hepatitis C flung me into all kinds of denial. After my initial ascites drain, I was watching the blood transfusion dripping in to nourish my sick self. My doctor came in and announced: No More Herb Supplements.
Okay, I had Hepatic Encephalopathy due to a recent bleed. I was doing my best to look dignified in my peekaboo gown. But when I began to tell him how I was going to get better, he was not very nice. My plan included vitamins and herbs. You would have thought I had spit on his shoes!
He said that my referral to a transplant doctor would require strict compliance with every rule. I hate rules, but I promised. Actually, I begged him to forgive me, made some comments about the great gift that his mother had given the world on the day he was born – and then I promised that nothing would pass my lips that my Allied Health Team did not approve of.
I kept that promise. But every time I saw him my body was stronger. I was eating like a nutritional ninja. I only worked part time, rested a lot, and exercised. I took my diuretics, beta blockers, and a myriad of other drugs. He allowed 1 children’s vitamin daily and told me the rest of my nutrition should come only from a well balanced diet. It worked! About 4 months in, my MELD score was down to 8.
After a visit with a nutritionist, I worked up the courage to ask about Milk Thistle. My viral load was soaring and the FDA approval on protease inhibitors was sluggish. Some of you probably remember the month to month waiting. I just wanted to DO SOMETHING!
He gave me a sample pack of Milk Thistle and told me to take only 2 a day. I used it for the next 6 months while hoping to be able to treat. My transplant doctor also said that it was okay, but kind of laughed it off. I secretly wondered if they knew I was going to die and were just pacifying my need to try anything. I took 2 capsules faithfully every day and was allowed to take 2 children’s chewable vitamins. And I drank green tea with peppermint, ginger, and honey. Like THAT was going to save my life.
I still had questions about Milk Thistle:
Is it safe? There is no evidence of small doses killing anyone. According to my doctor, the brand matters. I have a few brands from health food stores that I have used for years. I don’t endorse any particular one because I feel that is up to you and your Allied Health Team. I think that mega dosing anything when living with cirrhosis is a gamble. I am not willing to take that risk. I used very conservative amounts of a brand my doctor approved of.
Is it effective? The studies have not been designed very well. For example, it might have very few people with different levels of cirrhosis, hepatitis, or other health problems. Some of the results may be skewed in my opinion. I look at who was conducting the research. If it was done by doctors who promote all natural medicine, the results could be slanted that way. If it was performed by a pharmaceutical company, it could be slanted another way. I’m very wary. I simply cannot find any thorough research to back up a claim with solid numbers.
What is a safe dosage? I took 2 capsules daily. 400 mg seems to be the safe daily dose.
Maybe we could all go out to the pasture for a picnic. Some of my rancher friends try and get rid of it because it spreads quickly and destroys good pasture. Others say too much causes nitrate poisoning. Who knows? At one time the experts said that mother’s milk was bad for the baby. They just couldn’t figure out where to put the warning label.
I am looking at Milk Thistle again. While I was taking it, I believe that it helped me get ready for treatment. I was instructed NOT to take it while on Hepatitis C treatment so I threw a new bottle away. It can interfere with drugs that you are taking and I had learned by then to just shut up and listen if I wanted to live.
Meanwhile, I keep searching for an answer for cirrhosis. You do too or you wouldn’t be all the way at the end of this blog. I have a friend who travels to Washington, DC every month while taking part in a clinical trial for fibrosis reversal medications. She has End Stage Cirrhosis. I can’t wait to see how this turns out for her.
New information is coming out all the time for ways to help our liver heal itself without creating more fibrous bridging. Some of us are free of the Hepatitis C Virus and know that the major cause of inflammation is gone. We still have to carefully guard everything we eat and drink to pamper our liver. That includes Milk Thistle. I hope this has helped you in understanding Milk Thistle Safety for Good Liver Health. We’ve got hope, don’t we? Xoxo Karen:)
What has your experience with Milk Thistle been? Does your doctor feel that it is a safe therapy for liver health?
pics via wikipedia, facebook, okprairie.com